Would Bush have known the difference?


On Thursday Brit Hume and a bunch of regulars (Juan Williams, Nina Easton and Charles Krauthammer) on Fox News kicked around Obama’s Buchenwald-Auchwitz mix-up.

Here’s my favorite line, courtesy of Mr. Krauthammer: “It does tell you a little bit that this is a man who wants to be commander in chief, and he’s not really aware that Auschwitz was in Poland and the American army never entered Poland in the Second World War.”

Yeah, sort of like someone wanting to be commander in chief and not knowing the name of Pakistan’s leader.

As for Obama, it’s unclear if he didn’t know the difference between the two camps, mixed up the story in his head at some point or if he was the victim of some sort of longstanding family lore that got botched in the retelling.

But, back to what the current president knew (or did not know) upon seeking the job … Could Krauthammer say with any degree of confidence that candidate George W. Bush knew the difference between Auschwitz and Buchenwald? I’ll bet you Hillary and McCain know the difference, and as one Clintonista pointed out to me, Bill could probably give an impromptu speech on the topic.

[UPDATE: I should have mentioned that McCain certainly knows a thing or two about Hannah Senesh.]

Here’s the full Fox News exchange:

HUME: Well, he said that over the Memorial Day weekend, did Barack Obama, and there has been considerable comment on it for a couple of reasons. One is that he didn’t have an uncle who did that. He had a great-uncle, and apparently the Obama camp believes uncles, great-uncles, what’s the difference? That’s not the issue.

But it wasn’t Auschwitz, which, of course, was in Poland and was liberated by the Soviets, after which it was part of, obviously, Soviet occupied Poland, and not a stop-off point for American forces.

It was apparently Buchenwald which his great uncle had some part in liberating. And the question is whether this means anything or is it just a historical slip that occurs during the course of a long campaign and when memories get short and people get tired. Juan, your thoughts?

WILLIAMS: Well, for me, the question is if it’s a patent ploy to try to reach out to Jewish voters, given all the trouble he has been having there, to say somehow he’s connected through his grandfather’s efforts, but he doesn’t know the history. And to me, that’s disturbing. You should know the history.

You could put it off as a slight misstatement. But it’s so emotion packed and it’s so significant, it’s interesting that it comes at this juncture when he is having this problem with the Jewish community in this campaign.

So then is it a matter of simply trying to exploit something that I think is really beyond the pale in terms of exploitment, which is the memory holocaust and all that happened there. And that is what is troubling for me.

I just think if this was something that was a deep part of the family history and something significant to him, I think we would have known about it before.

EASTON: I think this is a “gotcha” moment, and I think there is a danger in all of us making too much out of this. If there wasn’t as uncle, if there was no concentration camp, then I would have been more concerned. But he got the name of the concentration camp wrong.

I think with the family lore situations — keep in mind, remember Mitt Romney had said that his father had marched with Martin Luther King, and people jumped on him saying that’s not right.

HUME: He marched, but King wasn’t there that day.

EASTON: Then apparently some elderly people who had marched in that march, and King was there, called the campaign. So the facts were actually fuzzier and it was, and I think it was an innocent moment on Romney’s part, where this was family lore that had been handed down.

And I think he could be cynically reaching out to Jewish voters. But this isn’t a conversation about post-traumatic stress syndrome.

WILLIAMS: That was published.

EASTON: I’m talking about the Obama conversation. But it wasn’t like he was in a moment reaching out to Jewish voters.

KRAUTHAMMER: I had a good inkling that he used the words uncle and great-uncle simultaneously because his mother was a single child and there was no reports of a large number of Kenyan units in the Soviet Army in the Second World War.

It does tell you a little bit that this is a man who wants to be commander in chief, and he’s not really aware that Auschwitz was in Poland and the American army never entered Poland in the Second World War.

But there is a deeper issue here, and that is “Auschwitz” is a word that is terrible and awesome, and it is a word you don’t invoke lightly. It is seared into the consciousness of Jewish people and, in fact, of the world.

And to use it to make a cheap political point about Obama’s superior sensitivity about the mental health issues of veterans leading to a story about an uncle who supposedly spent six months in an attic — he says carefully it is a family story so if anybody checks he can excuse it as a legend and a soldier who was allegedly in the Second World War, and you end that chain of reasoning with Auschwitz, I think is deeply unfortunate.

It’s not a big deal, but it chips away at the pedestal that Obama has established for himself and which a lot of the press worships as a man who transcends the old politics of petty maneuvering and pandering. In fact, he’s a great political panderer and maneuverer, but he does it with the elegance and skill of a young Clinton, and he gets away with it, and the press allows him to.

EASTON: I think a more serious charge came this week, or today, actually, with McCain, who talked about how as a Senator Obama hasn’t been to Iraq more than once. And he is part of a subcommittee — excuse me, is chairman of a subcommittee on Afghanistan and, as McCain put it, is so uncurious that he hasn’t held a single hearing on the Afghanistan war.

And I think that is a bigger topic.

HUME: And that is a worthy topic that we will reserve for another day. Thank you, panel.

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